Celebrating Phillis Wheatley 250 at the British Library

Celebrating Phillis Wheatley 250 at the British Library

British Library Oct 19th 2023

A tribute to the mother of African-American literature with Diane Abbott, Stella Dadzie and Ade Solanke.

This event takes place in the British Library Pigott Theatre. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, from as little as £1.  

Join us for an exclusive extract of Ade Solanke‘s original new play celebrating the 19-year old enslaved prodigy Phillis Wheatley who, 250 years ago in 1773, arrived in London to arrange publication of her collection of poems and became the toast of the town, feted by the political and cultural elite. It was the first book of poetry in English by an African-American. 

This remarkable women is brought to life on stage in award-winning playwright Ade Solanke’s play Phillis in London, which dramatises and re-imagines Wheatley’s experience of being an African Woman writer abroad in Georgian London and ‘celebrated’ by the elite of the capital of the British empire – at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  

But her story is one of triumph of tremendous odds. Kidnapped from West Africa at age 7, she survived the gruelling Middle Passage and enslavement in Boston for 12 years, yet gaining the education to write the book – Reflections on various Subjects, Religious and Moral – only the third book of poetry published by an American woman. Hosted by the Abolitionist Granville Sharp during her London visit, Wheatley finally secured her freedom. Because she was still enslaved during her visit to London, the Georgian African writer and composer, Ignatius Sancho, dubbed her a ‘Genius in bondage’.  

Ade will introduce the piece and, following the performance, will be joined in conversation by Diane Abbott MP and feminist writer, historian and education activist Stella Dadzie.

Doors and Bar open at 18:00.

Supported by the US Embassy in London and the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.